I can't talk about shopping without talking about loneliness

I arrived early to an event tonight, by about an hour. I thought about waiting in the car, I thought about just going to a nearby coffee shop and working. But I was feeling a little down and a little insecure and I didn't want to sit somewhere alone.

 So I did what I always do when I need to cheer myself up or kill a random hour: I went shopping.

I didn't end up buying anything but I spent an entire hour trying on dresses at Buffalo Exchange, feeling all that familiar excitement (what if I find a great deal?!) and distraction and purpose. 

 The event I was waiting for was a book reading by my friend Cait. The book was about how she took a year long shopping ban. It’s really powerful and you should definitely read it.

At the event, I thought — well this doesn’t really apply to me, because I don’t buy a lot of stuff.

And then she said something that struck me: “this wasn’t just a ban on shopping, it was a ban on browsing.”

Now browsing is something I do a lot of. Even this week, I spent a few hours online looking at outfits for my South Africa trip, I returned something to Nordstrom Rack and then ended up spending an hour trying on shoes. I needed a coat so I popped into Columbia Outlet over the weekend and tried on different jackets. That’s like 6 hours right there!

Listening to her speak, I thought about all the times in my life when I did a lot of shopping and I saw a correlation I had never seen before: I shop when I'm lonely. 

 When I first moved to Portland, I was sixteen. I had just gotten a driver's license and I didn't know a soul. So after school, I would drive to the mall and spend hours just looking and trying things on. I have this vivid memory of being in an Abercrombie & Fitch dressing room, listening to all the girls around me talking and laughing, and feeling like I was somehow part of it, just by being there.

Then when I moved to Boston, I would spend hours on the weekends at Target, walking each aisle. When I came home to my empty apartment, it didn't feel like I had just wasted my day-- it felt like I had done something! 

I’ve written before about my college relationship, and how we spent a lot of time shopping. It was under the guise of saving money (as in, we needed a shirt but we were hunting for a really good deal) but I look back and I think we were just killing time.

Even now that my life is fairly full of friends and family and clients and husbands and dogs...This tendency still pops up. For example, I was on a business trip a few weeks ago and instead of sitting alone in my hotel room or by the pool, I went shopping. For some reason, the idea of being alone felt unbearable once I was faced with it, even though only a few days before I had been dreaming of getting to lie in the sun by the hotel pool. 

Or if Andrew is out late playing basketball and I don't have plans, I'll turn on a movie and spend hours on Anthropologie or Nordstrom looking at sales. I won't even realize how long it's been until I'll hear his key in the lock and realize I've just wasted my entire night.

What's amazing is that I often don't even buy anything. (And what's scary is that I often don't even buy anything). And if I do, I usually end up returning it.

It's just a hunt that goes on and on and on. A feeling that something is missing and I need to go out there and look for it.

But what am I hunting for?

I guess I imagine finding the most perfect piece of clothing — for only $10! — an item that I will keep for decades, that will fit perfectly every time I put it on, and I’ll think “Thank god I went into that Buffalo Exchange that night before the book reading, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have this.”

But the truth is, I’m probably spending 10-15 hours a month and I don’t have anything to show for it.

A couple months ago, a friend said that she thought she was a shopping addict, and so we started talking about shopping…but only in the sense of buying. I asked her how much money she had spent in the past month, and how many pairs of jeans she had, and what she was shopping for.

But I didn’t ask her the most obvious question — what would you be doing with your time instead of shopping? Because I’m guessing she would have said that she didn’t have much to fill that time, and spending an afternoon shopping feels so much more purposeful and productive and distracting than just hanging out at home, or taking a walk, even if those activities would ultimately make for a much more fulfilling life or force her to do something about her own loneliness.

When we talk about shopping, we only talk about the very end: the buying. The item you take home. If you needed it or didn’t. But we don’t talk about that feeling when you walk in a store and there are so many things to see, and treasures to find. We don’t talk about the slide of the hangers on the rack, the picking things up and then putting them down.

Even on your computer, think of how fun it is to scroll. To imagine it being yours. To read the reviews (even better, to look at the pictures in the reviews!).

So the next time somebody talks about shopping, that’s what I’m going to talk about. And loneliness. I’m going to talk about that, too.